Infant rice cereal has six times more arsenic than other types of infant cereal, and is babies’ top source of arsenic exposure. If you’ve been giving your baby infant rice cereal, make changes today. Risks from arsenic in infant rice cereal add up over time, so starting with other foods now will make a difference.
Other types of infant cereal have much less arsenic. Healthy choices for babies include cereals made from oatmeal, barley, wheat, quinoa, and other non-rice grains. Multi-grain cereals (even those that contain rice) are also good, low-arsenic options.
There’s enough arsenic in infant rice cereal that experts are now advising parents to choose other foods for babies’ first solids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to offer infant cereal grains like oatmeal, barley and multigrain. Introducing babies to a variety of grains gives them a variety of nutrients, too. AAP experts say that rice cereal does not have to be the first cereal or first food given to infants - other first foods can include pureed vegetables and meats.
Feeding your baby rice cereal once in a while isn’t the problem. The risks become significant when babies eat rice cereal often, multiple times a week, for example.
But no amount of arsenic is perfectly safe. HBBF recommends non-rice and multi-grain cereals instead of rice cereal because they have reliably lower arsenic levels – six times lower than rice cereal, on average. They are a better choice, to help keep your baby’s arsenic exposures as low as possible.
Some babies need their food to be thicker in order to swallow safely or reduce reflux. Parents have traditionally added rice cereal as a thickener for bottle-fed infants. But because of concerns about arsenic in rice cereal, oatmeal cereal is now the preferred option. Learn more at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website.
For many foods, organic and natural varieties are the healthiest choices. When it comes to arsenic in rice cereal, though, these alternatives don’t help.
In fact, our tests found 30 percent more arsenic in brown rice infant cereal than in other infant rice cereals. There’s more because arsenic concentrates in the outer part of the rice grain, the part that is removed in white rice but remains in brown rice. We also did not find reliably lower arsenic levels in organic rice cereals compared to other rice cereals.
Arsenic is a common pollutant in soil and groundwater worldwide. As a result, many foods are contaminated with arsenic. But rice accumulates about 10 times more arsenic from the environment than other grains. Infant rice cereal is babies’ top source of exposure.
Even though rice cereal is the top problem, tests also show high arsenic levels in apple juice, rice milk, rice cakes, puffed rice cereals and snacks, and other foods including some infant formulas that are sweetened with brown rice syrup (look for “brown rice syrup” on the ingredient list). Gluten-free foods that contain rice flour instead of wheat flour can also have high arsenic levels.
Solutions? Serve whole or pureed fruit instead of fruit juice (arsenic is concentrated in the juice). Choose gluten-free foods that don’t list rice as an ingredient. Ask your pediatrician about options other than rice milk, if your child needs a substitute for cow’s milk.
Arsenic causes cancer and harms children’s ability to learn. Children face the highest risks, because their bodies are still developing and their exposures are higher than adults’, pound for pound. But arsenic isn’t safe for anyone in your family. If you eat rice often, risks are higher and accumulates over a lifetime.
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to reduce the arsenic in your family’s diet. Cook rice in extra water that you pour off before eating. Buy basmati rice grown in California, India, and Pakistan for the lowest levels. And serve other grains like quinoa and farro to help reduce the amount of rice you eat.
Since 2012 a number of studies of arsenic in infant foods have made the news, including Consumer Reports’ tests in 2012 and 2014. Our study focuses on the top arsenic source for infants (rice cereal) and fills two data gaps. We wanted to know if new non-rice infant cereals are low in arsenic and therefore healthy choices for babies (yes, they are). We also wanted to know if baby cereal companies had done anything in the past few years to reduce arsenic levels in their rice cereals (yes, it appears that they have, but not enough).
The problem of arsenic in baby food won’t go away soon. There will be even more studies published. When you learn about new research, be sure that the researchers have tested for “inorganic arsenic,” the more toxic form of arsenic, and that the test results are publicly available. That will help you spot information that is most relevant to your family’s health.